We all know that stress can undermine health. It won't surprise you that workplaces have been found to be a significant source of stress. This article put Canada's cost of work-related stress at $22 billion in lost productivity.
Today, I came across an article in Forbes about the waste, costs and harm generated in the American healthcare system. The same observations apply in Canada.
What’s the connection? Actually, there are several. Healthcare workplaces are often highly stressful. Healthcare workers, including doctors, are stressed. Stressed workers are more likely to make errors in judgment. Their stress may also heighten anxiety about the consequences of errors, driving them to either cover up mistakes, or engage in the kind of “cover your ass” activities that make organizations bureaucratic, inefficient and ineffective.
Few workplaces do much to mitigate workplace stress. Larger companies may offer their employees Employee Assistance Programs that include psychological counseling, as if there should be no limit to the amount of stress an individual can handle, and if you can’t handle it you just need some coaching. No one seems to be questioning the reasonableness of burgeoning workloads and 24-7 accessibility. For employees in smaller companies that don’t have these programs, there may be no help at all.
As a result, we have stressed-out healthcare workers attempting to remedy their own degrading health and that of other stressed-out workers and failing (since a $22 billion loss in productivity must surely be viewed as a collective failure) because all the attention is on the response to stress, not the causes of it.
So, what do we do about it?
- Be proactive about your own stress management. If you need guidance on how to recognize stress in yourself and what to do about it, have a look at these articles.
- Be sensitive to those around you who seem to be struggling with stress. If you think your workplace is a hotbed for it, get a group of like-minded employees together to discuss what makes your workplace stressful and what would help make it less so.
- Generate some positive, cost-conscious suggestions for making your workplace less stressful. See if there are ways to decrease stress and maintain or increase productivity. Recognize that reducing absenteeism will increase productivity. Involve your employer/manager in the discussion.
The costs of workplace stress are individual AND collective. Billions of dollars are being wasted because employers are not considering how work practices contribute to stress and illness. It’s time to get our business and industry leaders engaged in positive, creative discussions about stress mitigation.